One way is to think about theater design. I find that thrusts are far more welcoming and engaging than proscenium style theaters, and theater in the round allows for the entire space to be seen, allowing for a revealing of how certain things are done onstage (such as scene changes, special effects, etc). However, that doesn't entirely get us out of the loop of what a traditional theater produces - we're probably still indoors, sitting in the dark, acting as spectators. That isn't to shun theater at all - pretty much every theater show I've ever seen has been like this and I enjoy it, because that's what I'm used to. But what if we thought about theater in yet another way?
One final approach, one that I think incorporates the previous two ideas together is site-specific theater. While traditional theater may "'distance spectators from spectacle and literally "keeps them in their place', in the dark, sitting in rows, discouraging eye-contact and interaction'" (Mike Pearson, quoted in Escolme), rethinking the spaces in which theater is performed can change this interaction. By "consciously rehearsing with a space as well as with text," more thought is put into the location of the staging, be it a parking lot, a warehouse, or a sunny park, and focus is put on how to incorporate that space into the show. By asking "'what does it mean if I say it here?'" there is a preference for the staging that is seen by the audience rather than what is just portrayed in the script (Escolme). What does seeing Coriolanus inside an old warehouse do to the show versus watching it performed in a lush, velvet-seated theater?
This does not go as far is Boal is urging, especially as Boal warns against the way empathy is used in most plays because it can cause audience members to empathize with those who would do them harm and cause them to be swayed into believing an ideological standpoint that they may not have if they had not been emotionally manipulated to believe it. I, however, still like empathy and think it can be useful, as long as one is aware of what exactly characters are asking empathy for. Focusing on something like site-specific theater would allow for Boal's techniques to be incorporated into more traditional theater and, while we should certainly push for more theater like Boal's, at least it would expand what traditional theater can do. In my dream world, a theater would involve opportunities for the more lush, dressed-up nights, casual shows, immersive shows, and lots of Boal's theater by the people (because, c'mon, we all want to be actors. So why not actually have the chance to do it and portray characters you love and now, either from other texts or the texts of your own lives?)
Awareness is key - being aware of how theater affects us and how important audiences are. Theaters like the Globe, which historically have and continue to interact with audiences (because shows are performed in broad daylight and groundlings are literally pressed up to the edge of the stage) have a reputation for interacting with the audience a lot because it is impossible to ignore them - and to ignore them would be to miss wonderful opportunities. However, in theaters like the Guthrie - not to say whether this has or hasn't occurred at the Guthrie, I'm just using it as an example of theater inside a building that was specifically designed to be a theater - it becomes possible for the theater lights to hide the audience a bit and for the crowd to disappear a bit, making the show less part of the present surroundings and more of a nonexistent fictional space. This can sometimes work out great - because, of course, you can't completely ignore the audience and maybe if you have a rough crowd, this is the only thing to be done - but it also misses opportunities to take advantage of what making the audience less of a spectator and more of an actor in the plot themselves could do.
Minneapolis and London have certain advantage in site-specific theater (or maybe that's just because the examples in the essay I read were from Minneapolis and London). Both cities - and other cities, but of course these are the ones I'm familiar with - have a history of putting theaters into various spaces, taking what's available for them and making the most of it. The Warehouse District of Minneapolis is called so because it is full of old warehouses, but this also happens to be a chunk of our theater district. Though, if you ever come to Minneapolis or St. Paul, we don't really have a theater district because our theaters are spread all over the place, in whatever venue our plethora of companies and groups could take. I like to say that every time I turn around, I find a new theater in the Twin Cities.
The possibilities with theater, location, and audience are endless. For instance, I watched a great program some time ago on PBS called My Shakespeare where Baz Lurhman, director of Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge, worked with a theater director in London to stage Romeo and Juliet with people from Harlesden, to show that Shakespeare can be performed by anyone, even people from a rough part of a city, and to help the people of Harlesden connect with the themes and story of Romeo and Juliet in their own lives. There's also this wonderful article about a production of King Lear by Syrians in a refugee camp. And I'm growing more and more interested in the work of Punchdrunk's immersive theater experiences, especially as they did Sleep No More, which I've heard is a retelling of the old Scottish Play.
And, to continue on this trend, next I'm going to discuss the emotional maelstrom that ensued on the interwebs when it was announced that Benedict Cumberbatch was going to play Hamlet. And this maelstrom doesn't involve fandom problems - this time, it's Shakespeare problems. So stay tuned for more theater ramblings ;)
Theatre of the Oppressed by Augusto Boal. New York: Theater Communications Group, 1985.
"Shakespeare, Rehearsal and the Site-Specific" by Bridget Escolme. Shakespeare Bulletin: Winter 2012. Vol. 30, Iss 4.